It’s been in the offing for a while, but now it’s official! Our planning application for a new business building here at School Farm has just been approved by Swale Borough Council at their latest planning meeting. Much as we would like to tell a story of how we had to battle for months or years against tremendous odds in order to achieve this, in fact the approval was unanimous! It’s really nice to be so well appreciated by our Local Authority. However, there had been a minor wrinkle, which was the reason why our application needed to be decided at a planning meeting at all. This is because not only our nearest neighbour (who complains about everything we do here) but also our local Parish Council had objected. The Parish Council objection of course had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that our neighbour’s partner is on it, but for some unaccountable reason Borough Councils don’t always take place too much weight on Parish Council’s views. Basically it meant that the application had to go to a formal meeting at Borough Council level rather than it being in any significant jeopardy, but it was a slight hassle all the same.
This was our first attendance at one of these planning meetings, so it was quite an interesting experience generally. The Chairman and the Council officials were seated along one side of a long table, with the Councillors who did the voting arrayed in a big semicircle facing them. The public gallery where we were seated was off to one side, and from where we were sitting we had a pretty good view of the back of most of their heads, so it was sometimes difficult to see who was talking – or at least it would have been but for the lights on their microphones. Rather like the flashing lights on Dr. Who’s sworn enemies the Daleks*, seeing whose light was on told you who was actually speaking. As we waited for the good couple of hours before our planning application came around, my attention began to drift a little, and before I quite knew it, I had been whisked away to a meeting of the Dalek Grand Council on planet Skaro, and the Chief Dalek was saying “T-H-O-S-E O-F Y-O-U I-N F-A-V-O-U-R O-F E-X-T-E-R-M-I-N-A-T-I-N-G T-H-I-S P-L-A-N-N-I-N-G A-P-P-L-I-C-A-T-I-O-N R-A-I-S-E Y-O-U-R S-I-N-K P-L-U-N-G-E-R-S N-O-W-!” But then it was back to earth with a bump – the vote was tied! That meant the Chairman had the casting vote, and he admitted to having mixed feelings about this particular planning application himself. Whatever he did, half the room was going to hate him, and all he could do about it was to choose which half that would be. With an agonising buildup only exceeded by the announcement of the winners on those dreadful TV “talent” shows, he finally came out in favour. By such ways are decisions occasionally made. I think it’s called “democracy”, and we all know (or should know) what a certain Mr. Churchill had to say about that. Perhaps our Parish Council might like to give it a try one day!
Eventually our application came round for discussion. Our neighbour had three minutes to speak by way of objection, then I had three minutes to speak in support. His basic objection was that our building was “too big”, but then he waffled away a lot to the effect that the planners’ own description of it as a “tithe barn” type of structure was hopelessly inappropriate. We’re not sure if he’d realised that the building had been designed in extensive consultation with the planners, and that they would have had significant prior discussions with the voting members, so the vote was ours to lose. We certainly didn’t intend to do that, so I spoke about the further employment opportunities and also the improvements that we’d made to the farm since moving here, followed by my hope that we wouldn’t have to move to Canterbury (i.e. out of the Swale local authority area) as a result of our application being turned down. So it was great to see all the sink plungers being waved enthusiastically in favour, and then it was a quick dash back to Faversham (only just avoiding bumping into our neighbours on the way out), to wave a few pints of beer around, and hopefully to manage to drink some in the process. It is fair to say we overachieved there.
So what will this permission get us exactly? It’s a full two-storey structure, joined to our existing production building, and will give us an approximate doubling of our total space. The accompanying drawings should give you some idea of what it will be like. We neither know nor care whether it will look like a “tithe barn” or not, but it will be a modern steel-framed construction (which is what we wanted), made to look traditional by black-stained timber cladding (which is what the planners wanted), so everyone is very happy. It will provide us with significantly expanded production and machine shop facilities, together with a similarly expanded R&D area. The R&D will be relocated from our existing “office” building, to allow that building to be used for purely clerical purposes in future, so there will be more space for that too. And we’ll also get an extension to that building, to give a greatly improved entrance area. This new arrangement will make a great deal of sense all round.
We want to see if we can make the new building more or less completely self-sustaining, so it will be insulated to a very high standard, and there will be photovoltaic solar panels on the south-facing part of the roof. The operation of these has not been fully understood by our objector(s), who voiced a concern about “glare” from them, but of course their actual function is to make electricity from light, rather than the other way round. But mind you, if we could temporarily reverse the process, and thereby generate some sort of steerable energy beam, I am sure this capability could be put to good use.
Now we just have to build it, but we hope to make a start before the winter. Stay tuned for further developments!
*SINK PLUNGER FOOTNOTE
The Dr. Who Sci-Fi TV series seems to be pretty much international nowadays, but if this reference is nevertheless new to you, we should explain that it dates from an era in which props and special effects were somewhat less sophisticated than they are now. The Doctor’s first alien enemies were some metal-encapsulated monsters (now of cultlike status after multiple reappearances) called the Daleks, and they had a very limited array of appendages, the main one of which was a moveable arm with some kind of sucker on the end. This arm had a very similar appearance to the plungers you use to clear sinks or drains, for reasons which even at the time were all-too-evident. And they had flashing lights on their heads, they S-P-O-K-E L-I-K-E T-H-I-S, and nearly took over the entire universe on occasion, even though their lack of legs made it rather difficult for them to get up stairs. Funnily enough it turned out that we had the same problem when we eventually got home.